Some Americans could lose Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under a recent Trump administration proposal ― a change that could affect thousands of people but that has received little attention since it was first floated in November.
Under the proposed change, the government would look more closely at whether certain disability insurance recipients still qualify as “disabled” after they’ve already been awarded those benefits. While recipients already have to demonstrate their continuing disability every few years, the proposal would ramp up the examinations, potentially running still-eligible beneficiaries out of the program.
The extra reviews will help “maintain appropriate stewardship of the disability program,” the administration said in the proposal, arguing current rules fail to account fully for the possibility of medical improvement.
It’s just one of several unilateral moves the Trump administration has made against social programs that make it easier for people to survive without labor market income. The proposals may save the government a few dollars, but they also send a political message that President Trump is cracking down on the “takers” Republicans have vilified for decades.
Democrats and disability advocates said the proposed new regulation would only hurt disabled people, that it hasn’t been vetted and that the rule-making process should be delayed. More than 8 million Americans receive disability benefits based on past employment and a loss of wage income due to the onset of a severe disability.
“We are concerned that under the proposed rule, some individuals subject to review will be simply unable to navigate the process and, as a result, lose their benefits even though there is no medical improvement,” a group of House and Senate Democrats led by Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said in a December letter.
The administration, for its part, is making only a halfhearted argument that ramping up medical reviews to kick people off disability benefits is actually going to help them. “We believe that there may be positive employment effects as a result of these proposed rules, although we cannot currently quantify them,” the Social Security Administration said in its notice of proposed rule-making.
“If they haven’t improved enough to go back to self-supporting work then they probably should still be eligible for benefits,” Kathleen Romig, a senior policy analyst at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in an interview.
The regulation could affect hundreds of thousands of SSDI and Supplemental Security Income recipients, Romig said, potentially ending benefits for tens of thousands. The administration didn’t estimate how many would lose benefits, but said the proposal would save $2.6 billion over a decade.